Tag Archives: office space

Tidydeskaphobia – does your desk reflect how your brain works?

A bit of a light-hearted post before I go on holiday.

Twice a year, once just before Christmas and the other just before I go on my summer holiday, I develop an urge to tidy my desk.  This takes two forms, first I attempt to reduce the in-box of my email account to zero, including, if possible, my folder called AAAA-pending and second, the physical process  of attempting to put a semblance of order to my somewhat cluttered desk.


This also includes my overflow desk, theoretically my meeting table, but in reality a bit of a mess.


This is a bit of a strange compulsion because I don’t actually feel comfortable with a tidy desk and have a deep suspicion of those folk who habitually have tidy desks and as for those with empty desks, well it raises the hairs on the back of my neck just thinking about it.  I am just not comfortable working in such a barren environment.  In fact, in that short period of time that my desk exists in its alien tidy state I have great difficulty finding things.  On the plus side, I do get one bonus when I do my twice-yearly desk tidy – my collection of ball-point pens and pencils increases in size dramatically 😉

Desk tidy

There is a popular myth that says that the state of your desk reflects how your brain works; that someone with a desk like mine exists in a world of chaos and multiple jobs on the go, regarded by many as a very inefficient way to operate. I  must confess that in that in one respect, the myth in my case is based in fact, I do have a huge number of tasks on the go at once, but I like to think I am quite efficient and complete them all in good time. The opposite side of the coin of course, states that a tidy desk reflects a tidy, well organised mind; a person who starts a job and finishes it before embarking on their next task.  Me, I like to go with Albert Einstein who supposedly said “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”  [apparently apocryphal – see comments].  This, is in  my opinion, somewhat insulting to those of you with empty desks; to each their own is my motto.

Do I consider myself to have a cluttered mind?  Well actually, in other parts of my life, working and otherwise, I am, to say the least, rather anal.  My library at home, some 11,000 books plus*, is arranged by subject area and alphabetically within subject, and in my general fiction section, even by nationality of author.  My extensive reprint collection, numbering 10021 as of 10th July 2013, all of which I have read,  are carefully filed away in my filing cabinets, by subject and author, and also entered in EndNote™.  Note that as an added sophistication, the keywords are my own, not from the author’s list; plus I have a back-up system of good old-fashioned record cards!

Filing cabinets  Card index boxes

More record cards again  More record cards

I also have my student’s PhD theses lined up in chronological order, although I confess that sometimes I feel the urge to arrange them by colour and of course the hard copies of my data-sets are also arranged perfectly, although the box-files don’t match!

PhD theses Sycamore data

So what about my brain?  How do I think it is arranged?  Strange to say, or perhaps not, I tend to visualise my brain as a system of card index boxes, and thus when I try to recall something, I mentally riffle through the record cards until I find the relevant fact(s).  So my desk does not, at least in my opinion, reflect my brain, although perhaps the rest of the office and my brain do have a lot in common.  Incidentally, mine is not the messiest desk/office I have come across.  Two of my former colleagues at Silwood Park, now both retired, outdid me in the cluttered office stakes by a very long way.  At least you can get more than one person at a time in my office.

And just to prove that I have actually tidied my desk…….

Tidy desk

*Note if you wondered why I don’t know exactly how many books I have.  I did once have all my books catalogued and listed on record cards, together with a star-rating system, but in the process of an acrimonious divorce, my card catalogue system was destroyed (don’t ask) and I just didn’t have the heart or time, to start all over again.  I now rely on my back-up notebooks to help me remember which books I own.   I will also confess that when on holiday, I arrange all the books in the rented villas we stay in alphabetically by author, although I do manage to resist the temptation to arrange them by subject area 😉


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